Monday, February 17, 2014

Confessions of a 3rd Page Addict

As some of you know, I've been involved recently with a group of writers/filmmakers in something called "3rd Page". It is as simple as this: once a week, one among us sends out a set of 3 key words which we call "prompts". They can be almost anything - a place, a thing, a color, a concept, etc. - and are usually totally random and unrelated to each other. For example a recent prompt is "Storm. Microscopic. Jolt." Then we each write a 3 page script (no shorter, no longer) that, in some way, incorporates the prompt.

The idea is to write a short film - a fully fleshed out, stand-alone story - in 3 pages. No small challenge. So, it is not unusual to see a script that is part of what could obviously be a much larger whole. But, again, the goal is to create a stand alone piece in 3 pages.

The scripts are uploaded to the 3rd Page website, where they are "copyrighted" using the Creative Commons model - meaning, the scripts are open to use by ANYONE as long as the original writer is credited. We basically let go of any proprietary energy about the scripts in hopes of seeing them energize and inspire other creative types of all stripes. Maybe even see them realized as films by filmmakers anywhere in the world.

The final aspect of the group is that, those of us in the LA area, get together "once a week" to read and discuss the work that gets created. I put "once a week" in quotes because our weekly meetings are interrupted for all manner of work/life conflicts. Certainly, individuals don't attend every weekly meeting and the group as a whole skips many a week - sometimes whole months at a time. But I do my best to address each prompt and meet as often as the group meets.  Why? Because I'm addicted to 3rd Page.

I have been asked more than once why, with my busy schedule and a feature film shoot looming in April, I still devote time to this group which engages in an endeavor that has almost zero professional value. Well, first of all, I don't really believe there is zero professional or commercial value in 3rd Page. I think we are creating a huge treasure of GREAT short form content. If these scripts were made into 3 to 5 minute movies, it would be a TON of great mobile content for some smart, forward thinking companies who aren't just catering to 15 to 35 year-old males. Also, the ideas that spring from these 3 page scripts will eventually prove to be the genesis of a lot of excellent feature film and television projects - ones that will definitely demonstrate exceptional professional and commercial viability. But beyond that argument, I'll answer the question of why I'm addicted to 3rd page by answering a set of questions posed to me for my friend Sean Hood for his Genre Hacks blog.

1. Why join a writer's group? - Lots of reasons, actually, but here's the main ones for me. First of all, disciplining yourself to write consistently is challenging for many of us, so being beholden to others outside of yourself (such as your fellow writing group members) makes it a lot easier to rise to that challenge. Secondly, the creative energy that flows back and forth in writing groups is stimulating and exciting, keeping me eager to hold up my end of the energy and exchanges. And finally, specific feedback from other smart, talented folk is always a blessing. At least it is for me. Some writers love to write in a vacuum and have no interest in hearing what peers/colleagues have to say about their work. Not me. I love to get a wide range of outside perspectives throughout the writing process. Whether I agree with feedback or not, it still opens up my own perspective and challenges me to look at my work outside of how it exists in my own mind.

2. Why write a three page script? - Okay, so even if you buy being part of a writer's group, you may be wondering why I waste that time doing 3-page scripts? One main reason: BECAUSE I CAN. Yes, my time is extremely limited, but I can crank out a three page script in an hour or two. Longer if I'm struggling, but often very quickly. This allows me a regular (and emotionally necessary) creative outlet that almost always comes with a satisfying sense of completion. A 3 page script is not the beast that a feature script is - which I've been known to labor on for months, if not years. I'm doing what I love to do (and am compelled to do) in sharp, concise, consistent and satisfying fashion - no matter what is going on in my life. Finally, I can take creative risks with a three page script I can't take with a feature. I can explore form, character, context, themes, issues in ways that a feature or tv script simply doesn't allow. That kind of creative risk is not just fun, it stretches and grows my creative muscles.

3. What's with the random three-word prompt? - I didn't come up with this concept, so I can't speak to the reasons behind its creation/incorporation. But I can speak to why the prompts work for me - the prompt both sharpens and frees my creative mind. The prompts help to focus my ideas and are often the jumping off point for the story I wind up telling. For instance, when I saw "Storm" and "Jolt" in the most recent set of prompts, I immediately thought of Frankenstein and a story developed from there. But at the same time, the prompts keep me from getting locked into specific story strains or themes. Dealing with the prompt often makes me address things I might not otherwise even consider. And the randomness of the prompt words may introduce a concept among them that doesn't conveniently fit into whatever neat package I was holding in my head. In short, the random prompt is freeing because it forces me out of my own self-generated creative boundaries.

4. Why give them (the 3 page scripts) away for free to the world? - Every 3rd Page member has there own reasons for why this works for them. Here's mine: I love collective creation. I love creative people sharing ideas and building off of each other. Call me a creative hippie/swinger/socialist. As good as my work has been, it always gets stronger, funnier, more interesting, more complex - more everything - with the the input/involvement of others. If someone can make my work better or change it so that it is no longer recognizable as the thing I originally created, but equally or more compelling in its own right, that is a GOOD thing. How can we "own" anything we put out into the world? It all gets consumed and repurposed in some way, shape or form. So, I get excited by the idea that my work could possibly inspire something better than what I created - or simply just different. Finally, as a filmmaker, I couldn't possibly make all of the 3rd Page scripts I've created (and continue to create). I'd love to see them get made by somebody…anybody. In fact, I'd love to see 5 different filmmakers take one of my 3-pagers and each interpret it in their own way. Well, maybe that's the creative hippie/swinger/socialist in me, again.

5. Why is it (3rd Page) so addictive and rewarding? - If you are a creative person, you don't just love to create, you are compelled to do it. You get depressed if you don't. Maybe worse than depressed. For me creating is less like a drug and more like….breathing. I need to breathe to live. I also need to create. However, it's easy for life to fill up with so much detritus, severely limiting your creative time and opportunities. 3rd Page is such a minimal time investment, I can stay pretty consistent with it. And it thus allows me to breathe - making me feel like I am ALWAYS the creative being I know that I am. And, as mentioned earlier, the scripts are so short that they always get finished. Every week, there is very palpable sense of creative satisfaction. And, of course, reading the other 3rd Page scripts and sharing ideas with my fellow 3rd Pagers is never less than inspiring. Fun, too. And, as I said earlier, it allows me to continue evolving as a creative being through the risks I'm able to take in this short format.

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